Thursday, March 9, 2006

Big 12 Conference Tournament Preview

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The Big 12 Conference had a disappointing season overall, as only five teams finished above .500 in conference play and only three teams are considered locks for the NCAA Tournament. Texas and Kansas tied for the conference title at 13-3, although the Longhorns beat the Jayhawks by 25, giving them the tiebreaker. Oklahoma was 11-5, with Texas A&M (one game back) and Colorado (two games) finishing behind the Sooners. There is a huge separation between the haves and have-nots this season, and that will be demonstrated in the conference tournament.


Texas came into the season as a favorite to win the league and as one of the candidates to win the national championship. Once conference play, people were starting to contemplate if Texas would go through the Big 12 undefeated. That obviously didn't happen. However, the Longhorns are still the team to beat in the conference and still have the type of team capable of making a Final Four run. The only negative about this team is that they tend to get blown out when they lose, which doesn't bode well for March. It all starts in the frontcourt for Texas. P.J. Tucker and LaMarcus Aldridge are the two best players in the conference and two of the best in the country. Tucker might be the most difficult player to match-up with in the nation, while Aldridge is an excellent all-around inside performer. Brad Buckman does a lot of the dirty work inside, but can also step up and hit the jumper. In the backcourt, Daniel Gibson is a good scorer and a terrific defender who can erupt for big games at any time. Kenton Paulino is a solid point guard who can score on occasion, plays good defense, and distributes. A.J. Abrams could play a big role off the bench down the stretch due to his all-around production.


Kansas has been one of the surprise teams this season. After playing somewhat poorly in the non-conference due to the fact that they had to mesh several newcomers into the rotation, the Jayhawks have taken off. They have won 19 of their last 22 and are on a hot streak. Kansas plays some of the best defense in the country, and are not usually out of games thanks to their efficiency on the defensive end. Brandon Rush is capable of becoming a superstar, but he is too unselfish at times and not aggressive enough on the offensive end. With that said, he is one of the best freshmen in the country. Mario Chalmers is a lock-down defender, while Russell Robinson combines with Chalmers to provide the Jayhawks with an excellent point guard duo. Up front, Julian Wright is a multi-talented forward who can play several positions and do a variety of things on the court. Sasha Kaun and C.J. Giles are solid in the paint. If they rebound and play defense, and get some buckets here and there, Kansas will be fine down low.

Oklahoma has not been the team many expected them to be heading into the season. The reason has been that the Sooners tend to play down to their competition and are just inconsistent overall. In fact, they had a stretch of four games in a row in which they won each contest by only one point. Terrell Everett is one of the best all-around players in the conference and one of the most underrated in the country. Taj Gray and Kevin Bookout are an excellent interior duo, with Gray as the athletic forward who can get out in transition as well as score in the half-court and Bookout as the burly big man who gets rebounds and is tough to stop with his back to the basket. Michael Neal is an outstanding shooter from the perimeter, while Nate Carter is a solid player that can score and rebound.

Teams that will be competitive:

Texas A&M has won seven straight, including a victory over Texas and three road wins. Before that streak, A&M was just 1-5 in road games. They don't win pretty and have only won two of the seven victories by more than four points. However, they find ways to get victories, and that's what counts. Acie Law has developed into one of the conference's best guards, using his crafty driving ability to get points. Joseph Jones is one of the Big 12's best big men. He is tough to stop down low and is also a solid rebounder. Josh Carter and Dominique Kirk are two decent players on the perimeter for the Aggies, while Marlon Pompey is an athletic forward that can rebound. Antanas Kavaliauskas is another good inside player.

Colorado needs at least two wins to be considered for an NCAA Tournament berth, which means they might play harder than usual. They have lost five of their last nine, including their last five road games. Richard Roby has carried the Buffaloes on many occasions this season, but he has been struggling lately. Chris Copeland is a solid all-around player that contributes in many aspects of the game, and Marcus Hall is good point guard that can score and distribute. Andy Osborn and Martane Freeman lead a host of role players that produce in a variety of ways for this deep and balanced Buffaloes squad.


One of the season's biggest disappointments, Iowa State still has enough talent to cause some stress to higher-ranked teams. They are only 2-6 in their last 8 games and 5-10 in their last 15, but the Cyclones have not looked as bad as that record would indicate. ISU struggles at home but is much better on the road, which is a good thing because the Big XII Tournament is not played at Hilton Coliseum. They hung with Kansas for awhile on the road, lost by one at Oklahoma, and only lost by a basket on the road at Texas Tech and Kansas State. Curtis Stinson is one of the best players in the conference, and he and Will Blalock make up the best backcourt in the league. Rahshon Clark is a matchup problem on the wing. The Cyclones have shown their potential with wins over Colorado, Iowa, and Northern Iowa. Anytime you have the talent to beat those types of teams, you shouldn't be underestimated. In other words, don't take Iowa State lightly despite their poor performance during Big 12 play.

Prediction: There is a lot on the line this week in the Big 12 Tournament. Texas is a sleeper pick for a #1 seed, while Texas A&M and Colorado are just trying to get into the NCAA Tournament. Moreover, Oklahoma is trying to see if they are a team that could do some damage in March, while it will be interesting to see how Kansas' young guns react to postseason play for the first time. With all the storylines going on, it should be an exciting conference tournament. Had you asked me who would win the Big 12 Tournament two weeks ago, I would have told you Kansas. However, after watching Texas annihilate Kansas and Oklahoma, I have changed my mind. The Longhorns are just too strong on the interior for the Jayhawks and too good overall for the Sooners. When it is all said and done, Texas is going to get the automatic bid from the Big 12, but will not receive a #1 seed. Meanwhile, Texas A&M is going to be the conference's fourth NCAA team.

Game-by-game predictions:
#9 Kansas State 71, #8 Texas Tech 66
#5 Colorado 75, #12 Baylor 70
#6 Nebraska 70, #11 Missouri 59
#7 Oklahoma State 69, #10 Iowa State 65

#1 Texas 82, #9 Kansas State 66
#4 Texas A&M 59, #5 Colorado 53
#3 Oklahoma 67, #6 Nebraska 62
#2 Kansas 76, #7 Oklahoma State 64

#1 Texas 72, #4 Texas A&M 63
#2 Kansas 66, #3 Oklahoma 64

#1 Texas 77, #2 Kansas 70

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